By: Jamie Stephens, Associate AIA, LEED AP BD+C
“Design needs to allow learning to happen anywhere in the school.”
-Irene Nigaglioni, AIA, CEEP, LEED AP BD+C, Partner/National Planning Director at PBK.
In a world where we have more access than ever to technology, a global audience and information literally at our fingertips, it is more pressing than ever to ensure our educational facilities can be lasting, yet flexible to the changing needs of educators and students. In fact, research has shown that flexible learning environments can have positive impacts on the way students develop, interact and learn. One major strategy schools are implementing to provide the flexibility needed for children to learn and grow is an environment that caters to anytime learning.
“Walls that used to separate classrooms from hallways are being opened up to expand collaborative spaces. Libraries and cafeterias are melding together into ‘learning hubs,’ supported by robust wireless technology.(1)
As we move forward, it is important to escape the traditional environments that often stifle and repress learning, and which reduce student participation by placing teachers and students on opposing sides, rather than positioning students as active participants in their educational endeavors. We’re seeing education evolve more and more as a team effort, allowing students, parents and teachers the opportunity to create a more individualized learning plan to suit the needs of each student.
“Flexible learning applies both to the method of learning - online, at home, in groups - and the classroom space itself. Some of the best flexible learning spaces rely on furnishings that are easy to move, allow sitting and standing and facilitate group or individual learning.
Studies have shown that when given the chance to exercise power over how and where they learn, students feel a greater sense of responsibility for themselves and their academic success.”(2)
In most K-12 educational spaces, we no longer see a need for the straight rows of desks with a teacher podium at the front. In fact, we’re seeing educators push to be less confined to a desk at all, preferring move around the classroom more freely. We’re providing our clients with flexible furniture options and sharing a variety of ways educators can reconfigure their spaces by activity or learning task in hopes that they will have a solution that works for every teaching style as well. Some current trends in classroom furnishings make re-configuring so easy the students are even able to help, reducing transition time between tasks.
In a study conducted jointly by a leading British university and an architecture firm, they found that “a school’s physical design can improve or worsen children’s academic performance by as much as twenty-five percent in early years.”(3)
Twenty-five percent is easily the difference between a C average and an A, or a C
and an F, and for any school-aged child, these numbers are huge.
Just like in corporate America, where the latest trends in office environments are moving away from the traditional brick-and-mortar corner office to a more open and collaborative, technology-heavy, flexible environment, we are seeing a similar trend in education, even at the K-5 level. Here, computer labs filled with desktop computer stations have been replaced with laptops, which have often been replaced with tablet technology, making student learning a highly technology-based, collaborative and portable experience.
“Today’s students don’t just learn about robotics: they build robots,”
says Greg Monberg, AIA, CEFP, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Design Research at Fanning Howey. (4)
As architects, designers, and educators we are tasked with providing the best spaces for this move toward active, hands-on learning, at any time, and in any place. In a push to help children adjust to the changing world inside and outside of the classroom, some of the STEM, STEAM and even some more traditional public schools in the Florida panhandle have embraced anytime learning environments full-force.
This topic is highly relevant to our team at DAG Architects as we work alongside educators and community leaders to develop learning opportunities that also help students relate to the local environment while providing a mix of traditional, non-traditional and cross-curricular learning spaces.
Primary School (K-5)
New Elementary School South, Walton County School District
This school utilizes a mixture of corridor-based learning spaces and outdoor classrooms to provide an evolving and interesting new teaching environment.
Intermediate School (6 - 8)
Beulah Middle School, Escambia County School District
As the first school in the county to adhere to the Vision 2020 initiative a new way of learning was critical. Natural light and a connection to nature optimize abundant collaborative interior and exterior environments.
High School (9 - 12)M
Mosley High School, Bay District Schools
Here, a dark and uninviting space was transformed into a series of brightly lit “learning commons” and educational shared-resource lounge spaces to extend learning and collaboration beyond the classroom environment.
Charter School (K - 5)
University Academy, Panama City
An abandoned airport terminal was extensively remodeled and renovated to house this charter school, challenging our architects to create intimate settings in the high-ceiling interior space.
1. John Caulfield. K-12 SCHOOL SECTOR GIANTS: To success, school design must replicate real-world environments.
3. School Design, Classroom Layout Can Heavily Affect Student Grades, Leaning: Study.
Jamie Stephens, LEED AP